"Hush! An Autumnal Celebration" at Earlsdon Carnegie Community LibraryReview
Can I get through a review of "Hush! An Autumnal Celebration" (another collaboration between "Hot Music Live Presents" and Earlsdon Carnegie Community Library) without using the words "magical" and "sublime"? I guess it's too late already.
Those are true words but what gives rise to them? Well several factors not least the levels of artistry on display & the superb sound engineering skills of Wes Finch which enabled the often complex sounds to be heard with such clarity. The acoustically and aesthetically beautiful environment also helped the performers soar.
But there was a great deal more to it than that & while I doubt I have adequate words to describe that, I'll do my best.
Firstly all the acts complemented each other & added to the overall picture, despite the very different delicacies they brought to the meal. All clearly considered community to be at the heart of their artistry (more of that later) and the interactions with the audience removed all the customary barriers. All radiated different manifestations of love. Yet above all, each was passionately honest & every one dropped frequent truth bombs on us. Virtually every song or poem had its origins explained to us and each clearly was rooted in deep personal experiences of the writer: some painful, some more joyous, and as I've always contended, beyond beauty, power & danceability, I think audiences connect with material they perceive to have such truth.
First up was an all too infrequent T8PES performance. This was only their second gig in about three years which is a grave loss to the scene: I'd certainly start a campaign to get them playing more. Led by Jimmy Davis, the group is something of a flexible ensemble/collective. Originally down to play as a trio, it hit its official membership of five on the day & if you factor in the performance of the headliner on several numbers, six of them played in various combinations including Grant Robinson on acoustic guitar, ‘cellist Julie Claire and special guests Levi Washington and Abi Rowberry (who deputised on the morning of the gig for an unwell member & did a fantastic job learning her parts: look out for her solo singer/songwriter gigs too). We also had the bonus of a solo Levi rendition of "Don't Go Fallin'" which was received in reverent silence by the rapt crowd. Surprises at concerts are a delight but as an organiser, you get them less often, so I was chuffed with this one.
Jimmy tried to describe the sound, which taking his vocals as a starting point had a hip hop origin of sorts, and his suggestion that "poetry" was the best way of capturing it was fascinating (and accurate) given what came later in the evening. Whatever his style was, the guitar & ‘cello took the sound miles from hip hop into more classical & melodic realms as did the backing vocals. A real hybrid, it was truly something unique which is why we need to hear more of it: not least because his words, often brutally honest, not only range far beyond the usual territory of rap (and he has a great conventional singing voice too) in terms of both themes & vocabulary: there was very little repetition of phrases on show at all.
After this musical poetry, the solo spoken set of Andrea Mbarushimana one of the area's best known & respected poets, fitted in like a glove. Like Jimmy, she writes so powerfully because she writes from her experiences and channels her passions articulately. As her experiences were markedly different from his, the material offered strong complements, though one sensed that many values were shared. Reading from several of her published works and other pieces, despite a throat which was a bit of a concern beforehand, her strength as a performer shone as her belief in her own words overthrew the physical constraint. What I liked was that like the best poets (or my favourite ones), her poems didn't sound like poems: no obvious slavery to constricting structures, it sounded like a very sensible (one sided) conversation delivered in a musical rhythm, so one could concentrate on the content & not the form. The audience certainly appreciated the performance and one of them was fortunate enough to hear for the first time in performance a poem dedicated to her.
What can I say about headliner Luke Concannon? Firstly, though well known to so many readers from his earlier days, now he is based in Vermont, we see him far too infrequently & I was so pleased that he played this gig as part of his "Our Wild Songs" UK tour.Drawing on his magnificent current album ‘Ecstatic Bird in the Burning' (which we reviewed in the magazine) Given Jimmy & Andrea's self identification as poets, I was intrigued that Luke describes it as "part love letter, part poem, part call-to-action".
Yes it's magnificent, but you really need to hear him play these songs live to fully appreciate them. Not only does he go into the background of each, but Luke, from his earliest days has smashed through any sense of barrier between himself and those listening and rare was the song on which we were not invited to participate. Yes too he's a superb singer & guitarist but the songs are built to have live communal collaboration & they zoom off elsewhere at that point. With some, that means joining in with clapping or on refrains: with others, they are transformed: "Absolument", already a joyous anthem becomes a genuine celebration of community while one like "The Hummingbird", which might be a little bit overshadowed on the album by the other very strong songs, emerges to claim its own place in the sun. There was also a bit of history too as "Coventry" received its first performance in the city of that name.
And I'm really just scraping the surface. Not just surrounded by fans & new friends, there were inevitably many older ones present (including his Nizlopi brother John Parker), Luke revelled. As ever, he could not be tied down to his mic on its stand (returning only for a few tracks using his looper which in his enthusiasm he several times precipitated from its stand), and ranged back & forth across the area available. We sang on the songs, Jimmy & Levi were called up for slightly more formal collaborations, but the piece de resistance was a looper led jam where audience members came up & led for long portions, revealing some wonderful latent talents while Luke simply assumed the beaming role of a benevolent facilitator.
Yes, since you are asking, we heard "The JCB Song" but also a passionate new song about the Ukrainian calamity on which though dropping into characters for the lyrics, was an unusually (even for Luke who wears his heart so openly on his sleeve) direct polemic: reminiscent of his similar thoughts on the tragedy of Palestine.
Equally interesting was a song he'd co-written with two other musicians on a song writing retreat in Texas which since he was writing with female artists, focused on the sacredness of women: an insight on his ability to collaborate at the often highly personal depths of composition & his capacity to empathise with the stories of others which he could not share directly.
Ultimately, Luke's values have shaped his writing for very many years, however much his musicianship may develop, evolve or carry out explorations. He never shirks from telling the truth, however unpleasant that might be, yet at the end, retains a highly optimistic vision of the redemptive power within us not just as individuals but acting collectively: and that is the key to his concerts. He takes us on a journey with him which he hopes will not just delight us for an evening but help us develop in a longer run: "what would you change if you loved somebody?' he asks of us.
I think all three artists share aspects of this position: yes truth bombs were dropped but all of them see lights at the end of tunnels even if anger has to be traversed to reach there. The powerful cannot be trusted yet ordinary people, including those hearing the songs & poems have a special form of power themselves which if combined, can be very potent.The fact that Luke got the audience to stand up & dance together was significant in this respect & I suppose in addition to bonding us, made us realise that you can have a great time on the journey too: it's allowed.
I hope that gives some sense of the elevated state we felt ourselves to be in by the end & how we arrived there.
If you are interested in learning more about Luke's craft, he is hosting a workshop/songwriting retreat called "Singer, Song, Circle: Listening for our true song in Community" in Leeds from Friday 4th November to Sunday 6th with Toke Møller and Kieron Concannon, details from Luke's website lukeconcannon.com
The next "Hush!" event is at Earlsdon Carnegie Community Library on Saturday 17th December from 1700 to 2000. The headliner is Ellie Gowers, as passionate an artist as Luke, supported by Clemency with local musician Ian Todd revealing another side to his creativity by demonstrating how he works on visual arts projects.
This gig is in fact a rearranged one from December 2021 when Ellie unfortunately fell ill on the day of the event.
If you bought a ticket for last year, I hope that you haven't mislaid it, as it's still valid for the new date. It does however mean that there are fewer tickets than normal available for sale, so early purchase is advisable once they go on sale.